Friday, October 20, 2023

Dinsmore Remains in Limbo Amid Jurisdictional Questions

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2023 at 11:51 AM

Family and friends who’d walked into court yesterday afternoon hoping to see Steve Dinsmore released from jail left disappointed, but not without hope that day may soon come.

Dinsmore, who was ordered released from custody in 2022 after serving more than 17 years in prison only to be returned to the jail in August after an appellate court overturned Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney’s decision to release him, remains in a state of legal limbo.

Initially sentenced by Feeney to serve more than 30 years in state prison after he was convicted of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy with a firearm, Dinsmore petitioned the court for relief in 2021. He argued that a new law made the types 10-year firearm sentencing enhancements that were a part of his original sentence now discretionary and, pointing to what’s been described as “exceptional conduct” in prison, argued that he’d been rehabilitated and was worthy of release. While the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office objected, arguing the new law was not retroactive and Feeney had no legal authority to revisit Dinsmore’s sentence, Feeney said he felt Dinsmore had been rehabilitated and ordered him released. The DA’s office appealed the ruling before Dinsmore left prison.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Eureka Parking Lot Proponents File More Lawsuits as Initiative Qualifies for Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2023 at 3:33 PM

The great Eureka parking lot war is escalating.

Less than a week after the city of Eureka reported that an initiative seeking to block its plans to transform a host of downtown city-owned parking lots into multi-family housing developments has qualified for the November of 2024 ballot, a group of local residents led by Security National President Robin P. Arkley II has filed two more lawsuits against the city, alleging it violated provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act in pushing the plans forward.

For years, the city has been looking to address a housing crisis by developing a host of city-owned parking lots in the downtown and Old Town areas into apartment complexes that would provide hundreds of housing units. And those plans have been gaining momentum, with the city recently entering into a contract with the Wiyot-led Dishgamu Humboldt Community Land Trust on a project to develop more than 90 housing units on what are now two parking lots at Fifth and D and Sixth and L streets, and the announcement last month that Linc Housing, a developer picked by the city, had secured a $30 million grant to building 90 units on three city-owned lots.

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Alderpoint Man Found Guilty of Murder

Posted By on Thu, Aug 24, 2023 at 10:35 AM

A Humboldt County jury on Wednesday convicted an Alderpoint man of first degree murder for the fatal shooting of an acquaintance at his home in January of 2022.

Jake Henry Combs, 31, faces 50 years in prison for the death of Trevor John Earley, 25, who was apparently shot in the head without warning at some point after he became upset and threatened Combs' large dog when he was bit in the face.

Combs initially fled the scene but was arrested on State Route 36 near Buck Mountain after getting into a crash.

"I am grateful for the excellent investigative work of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol, and the California Department of Justice - Bureau of Forensics. I extend my deepest condolences to Trevor Earley’s family,” said Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm, who prosecuted the case, in a news release.

Combs is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15.

Read the DA Office's release below:
Yesterday, a Humboldt County jury convicted 31-year-old Jake Henry Combs of first degree murder for the January 6, 2022 killing of 25-year-old Trevor John Earley of Alderpoint. Additionally, the jury found Combs intentionally discharged a firearm, causing Earley’s death. Combs faces 50 years to life in prison.

After hours of socializing together, Earley, Combs and others, were at Combs’ home when his large aggressive dog bit through Earley’s nose. Earley became upset and threatened the dog. Sometime later, while Earley chatted on the front porch with a friend, Combs retrieved his loaded 9mm pistol from his backpack, walked up to Earley from the side, and, without warning, Combs shot Earley in the head. Combs immediately fled the scene, but was apprehended by law enforcement on Highway 36.

Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm, who prosecuted the murder, said, “I am grateful for the excellent investigative work of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol, and the California Department of Justice - Bureau of Forensics. I extend my deepest condolences to Trevor Earley’s family.” District Attorney Stacey Eads hopes the family and loved ones of Mr. Earley find some degree of peace and closure in today’s outcome and expresses her appreciation for the jury and their service.

The case was prosecuted with assistance from District Attorney Investigator Martin Morris and Victim Witness Advocate Michala Pelren. Local defense attorneys Ben McLaughlin and Emery Welton represented Combs, who is scheduled to be sentenced by the Honorable Kaleb Cockrum on September 15, 2023. 
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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Arkley Hosted Justice Samuel Alito on His Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2023 at 2:18 PM

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, center, and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, right, hold king salmon with another guest. - PHOTO OBTAINED BY PROPUBLICA
  • Photo obtained by ProPublica
  • Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, center, and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, right, hold king salmon with another guest.

This story was originally published by ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Friends of the Court

Clarence Thomas’ Beneficial Friendship With a GOP Megadonor

In early July 2008, Samuel Alito stood on a riverbank in a remote corner of Alaska. The Supreme Court justice was on vacation at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day, and after catching a king salmon nearly the size of his leg, Alito posed for a picture. To his left, a man stood beaming: Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.

Singer was more than a fellow angler. He flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.

In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media. In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.

Alito did not report the 2008 fishing trip on his annual financial disclosures. By failing to disclose the private jet flight Singer provided, Alito appears to have violated a federal law that requires justices to disclose most gifts, according to ethics law experts.

Experts said they could not identify an instance of a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.

“If you were good friends, what were you doing ruling on his case?” said Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor and leading expert on recusals. “And if you weren’t good friends, what were you doing accepting this?” referring to the flight on the private jet.

Justices are almost entirely left to police themselves on ethical issues, with few restrictions on what gifts they can accept. When a potential conflict arises, the sole arbiter of whether a justice should step away from a case is the justice him or herself.

Rob Arkley - FILE
  • File
  • Rob Arkley

ProPublica’s investigation sheds new light on how luxury travel has given prominent political donors — including one who has had cases before the Supreme Court — intimate access to the most powerful judges in the country. Another wealthy businessman provided expensive vacations to two members of the high court, ProPublica found. On his Alaska trip, Alito stayed at a commercial fishing lodge owned by this businessman, who was also a major conservative donor. Three years before, that same businessman flew Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, on a private jet to Alaska and paid the bill for his stay.

Such trips would be unheard of for the vast majority of federal workers, who are generally barred from taking even modest gifts.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Rhode Island Man Sentenced to 25-to-life for Kneeland Murder

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2023 at 6:31 PM

Austin Michael Medeiros - HCSO
  • HCSO
  • Austin Michael Medeiros
A 28-year-old Rhode Island man was sentenced today to serve 25 years to life in state prison for the murder of 28-year-old Emily Lobba in her Kneeland home last year.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Kaleb Cockrum sentenced Austin M. Medeiros for the first-degree murder today, and added another six years, four months to his sentence for felony evading, theft of a vehicle and other crimes, according to a press release.

Lobba was found strangled to death inside her home April 3, 2022, and Medeiros was found to have stolen her possessions before fleeing the scene. A jury convicted Medeiros in the case about a year later, on April 27.

Find the full press release from the district attorney's office copied below.

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Missing Woman's Remains Recovered After Defendant Tells Investigators Location in Plea Deal

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2023 at 2:18 PM

Kiera Lynn Foley
  • Kiera Lynn Foley
The body of a 32-year-old woman who has been missing since April of 2021 was recovered earlier this month from a site on the “outskirts of Eureka” after the man who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for her death directed investigators to the location as part of a plea agreement, according to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office.

Jason Miller, 42, is expected to be sentenced to 25 years in prison on Aug. 24, a news release states.

Kiera Lynn Foley was last seen in the Eureka area with her black and brown long-haired Chihuahua named "Bubbles." According to media reports, witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing that Miller, who was arrested in December of 2021 on suspicion of Foley’s murder while already in custody on unrelated charges, also killed her dog.

The district attorney’s office release states Foley's family has been notified and “will soon be provided with the opportunity to lay her to rest.”

Humboldt County K-9 search and rescue dog teams, the Cal Poly Humboldt Anthropology Department, the California Department of Justice and the Eureka Police Department assisted in the recovery.

Find the full release below:

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Monday, April 10, 2023

What Can California Do About Abortion Pill Ruling? Not Much

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2023 at 11:05 AM

California’s Democratic lawmakers have spent the past year enacting legislation to protect abortion rights in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, but an April 7 ruling by a Texas federal judge is one thing they can’t touch. 

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone more than 20 years ago, arguing that it was flawed and invalid. Kacsmaryk issued a temporary stay on his ruling for seven days to allow the Biden administration to appeal. The ruling is likely to pull the drug from pharmacy shelves unless a higher court intervenes while the case moves through the appeal process. 

But just hours later, a district judge in Washington state issued a conflicting ruling in a separate case, prohibiting the FDA from taking the drug off the market. Despite the confusion caused by these dueling decisions, legal experts say even the threat of a legal gray area is likely to cause providers to stop distributing the drug.

Mifepristone is the first of a two-drug regimen that makes up the majority of abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy center. It blocks the pregnancy hormone progesterone and is also used to manage miscarriages.

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last June rescinded federal abortion protections, it left intact states’ ability to set their own abortion laws. California legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom jumped at the chance to make the state a beacon for progressive politics, even approving financial assistance for people in other states seeking abortions in California. 

But Kacsmaryk’s ruling addresses the FDA’s authority nationally, and leaves little room for states to mitigate the fallout.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Lisa Matsubara, an attorney for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and vice president of policy, told CalMatters a day after Kacsmaryk heard arguments in the case in mid-March. “It will take some time to understand how this will play out in California.”

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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Social Security Conflict: California Child Welfare Agencies Under Fire for Pocketing Foster Kids’ Benefits

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 8:53 AM

Amy and her adopted children inside their home in Pine Valley on Apr. 1, 2023. - PHOTO BY KRISTIAN CARREON FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Kristian Carreon for CalMatters
  • Amy and her adopted children inside their home in Pine Valley on Apr. 1, 2023.
In December 2019, a month after her son’s death, Patricia Baca contacted the federal government to provide for her surviving grandchildren.

The twins, just 3 at the time, had lived a difficult first few years of life. San Diego County had removed them from their parents’ custody that year due to allegations of drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the home, Baca said. The brother and sister were in foster care with Baca when their father died in an accident. 

Hoping to secure the children a future nest egg, Baca filed for them to receive survivor’s benefits from the Social Security Administration for children whose parents have died. 

But it was the twins’ legal parent at the time — the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency — that stepped in to receive their money. For the next two years, the county put their survivors’ benefits into its own coffers. Records show it was an effort to pay itself back for having issued monthly checks to Baca to cover the children’s basic needs. 

According to county and federal records Baca showed to CalMatters, the money taken totaled nearly $15,000 per child. Baca said she received foster care checks of about $1,000 a month per child, meaning the county partially recouped its costs using the Social Security benefits.

The funds seizure is common among child welfare agencies in California and nationwide – and it’s legal. 

But forces are building to halt the practice, which advocates say has been in place for at least two decades. A growing number of states are banning it, and advocates are seeking to eliminate it in California through a court challenge and a bill set to be introduced in the state Legislature next week.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Yurok Chief Justice Named North Coast Woman of the Year

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2023 at 5:58 PM

State Sen. Mike McGuire and Judge Abby Abinanti. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • State Sen. Mike McGuire and Judge Abby Abinanti.
State Sen. Mike McGuire announced today that Judge Abby Abinanti — a Yurok tribal member dedicated to addressing the Murdered and Missing Indigenous People crisis and the first Native to become a member of the California Bar Association — has been named the 2023 North Coast Woman of the Year.

Abinanti has served as the Yurok Tribal Court's chief justice since 2007, instating a Yurok Wellness Court that has been lauded as an example of progressive, culturally relevant justice system.

“I’m deeply humbled to Senator McGuire for this special recognition and for highlighting the amazing work of the Yurok Tribe and our Council,” said Abinanti. “It’s an honor to share the Senate floor with this group of change-making women. I also know there is much more work ahead of us to ensure that our court systems reflect the values we hold important, including individual and community-based responsibility for those who err. As to the MMIP crisis, it is a gift to know that Senator McGuire will not rest until we secure justice for all victims and their families and hold offenders accountable.”

A release from McGuire’s office notes Abinanti's extensive accomplishments and her dedication to securing justice for Native individuals and families.

“Judge Abby’s commitment to fighting for families, women, and tribal justice is second to none,” McGuire said in the announcement. “She built the Yurok Tribal Court, which is nationally recognized and respected as one of the best in America, from the ground up. Known for her innovative and holistic approaches to criminal justice and her relentless pursuit to combat the MMIP crisis, Judge Abby has helped countless individuals and families access justice and rebuild their lives. She’s an inspiration to all Californians.”

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Monday, March 20, 2023

CalPERS to Pay $800 Million Settlement Over Claims It Misled Retirees on Costs of Long-term Care Insurance

Posted By on Mon, Mar 20, 2023 at 2:59 PM

The CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento. - CALPERS
  • CalPERS
  • The CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento.
CalPERS is preparing to pay out roughly $800 million to settle claims that it misled retirees when it began offering long-term care insurance in the late 1990s and pledged it wouldn’t substantially raise rates on certain plans.

The nation’s largest public pension fund in the 1990s and early 2000s sold long-term care insurance with so-called inflation-protection that members believed would shield them from dramatic spikes in premiums. CalPERS nonetheless hiked long-term care insurance rates by 85 percent in 2012 and continued to raise fees in subsequent years, straining household budgets for retirees on fixed incomes.

The settlement, approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge earlier this month, would resolve a lawsuit that centers on that steep 2012 fee increase. The settlement cannot take effect until plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit vote on it in a process that’s expected to take place between April and early June, according to court records.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System pays for long-term care out of a specific fund that is separate from the $443 billion portfolio that supports pensions for its 2 million members. The long-term care fund had about $4.9 billion as of June and about 105,000 active policies, according to CalPERS.

The agreement is the second court-approved settlement in the case. It is significantly less expensive for CalPERS than the first one.

The previous agreement would have cost CalPERS as much as $2.7 billion and required retirees to drop their long-term care plans in exchange for payments of as much as $50,000 apiece.

“This plan is going to run on a basis that is economically solvent without regard to what was said 20-plus years ago when it was first offered.”

los angeles Superior Court Judge William Highberger

Thousands of retirees chose security over cash and rejected that agreement because they wanted to retain to long-term care insurance, according to attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

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